I have a dirty little secret that I am going to share with you – I like pastiche architecture.
The reason I am sharing it is because I had become a little vexed at the response I frequently received when telling planning officers and architects that I did not like modernism and I actually like traditional architecture. The conversation usually ended with the architect or planning officer telling me with poorly disguised disgust “but that is PASTICHE”, an ideological stand-off having been established beyond which we could talk no further.
However, little by little, I have been thinking about this and I want to continue the conversation. I want to reply, ‘But I like pastiche”.
Modernist ideologues, now seemingly a majority in these professions, claim that everything built today must be in the style of today, or “original”. They say we cannot use the architectural styles of yesterday because that would mean lack of progress, even regression.
I say that, rather than portraying regression, the pastiche (note how I have taken the liberty of raising its status to “the” pastiche, rather like “the” Baroque) has walked hand in hand with high points of innovation and aesthetics in our history. The C18th and C19th were both strongly characterised by the use of pastiche architectural styles. Broadly, in the C18th we reused classical styles and in the C19th we reused gothic styles. Both had been out of favour for many centuries and were at first unfashionable.
Moreover, nobody now claims these periods were devoid of progress of innovation, indeed they are widely seen as our most innovative and progressive ages, and certainly high points in our history.
Indeed, I would say to the peddlers of the 'modern', 'original', and 'brutal' that they are out of touch with the meaning of progress – it can include our progression in confidence to tell the architects to use the styles we really love, from periods in history we admire. These styles can be used confidently as symbols of continuity in our changing lives. The Victorians used gothic confidently to portray Englishness, and the Georgians used classicism confidently to portray civilization. The C20th modernists have used modernism to portray amnesia for the past and a break with any tradition.
From now on, I am not going to be intimidated by the use of the word 'pastiche', as a term of abuse (or a new one I heard the other day, 'Disney-esque'). Instead, I am going to imagine how Barry and Pugin, whilst designing our new, neo-gothic Houses of Parliament would have responded to those accusations. They would have held them in contempt, and with typical Victorian certainty would have said, “but we like pastiche”.
In today’s world, the best those who also like the pastiche and want to tell their local planning officers can do, is to invite the Prince’s Foundation for Building Community to visit and get them to ask the question “what architectural style do local people like?” And councils would be wise to listen to the answer.
Oh, and my final point – Modernism is so last century.